Even though November is a distant memory, I’m still getting regular email from the National Novel Writing Month organization (NaNoWriMo). The messages in my inbox consist of requests for support, opportunities for writers to get feedback on their manuscripts, or alerts about new blog posts on topics such as maintaining creative momentum and the next steps in the pursuit of publishing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for supporting this awesome organization and welcome mail from them! However, each email has been a somewhat bitter reminder of my failed attempt to participate in the movement. (I wrote a little bit about what derailed my efforts here.) Having had a little time to reflect these past few weeks following NaNoWriMo, I’ve realized that I actually gained some solid insight from my attempt… even if I don’t have a complete manuscript to show for it.
Four things I learned attempting to participate in NaNoWriMo 2017.
In the weeks leading up to November, I was at a complete loss for an idea – a story – to write about. Then, magically one day in the shower, I was struck by an idea. A good idea (at least I think it’s a good idea and that’s all that matters, right?)! For the past year, I’ve been so attached to the work of my first (still in progress) novel, The Colonel’s Keeper, that I couldn’t see past it or believe that I was capable of unlocking another creative treasure buried somewhere deep inside my subconscious. I was pleasantly surprised to discover otherwise!
One of my concerns leading up to NaNoWriMo was whether or not I should finish my current manuscript first and either not participate or put it on hold to work on the new idea. I chose the latter. Even now, I’m not really sure I’ve found the right answer but instinctively, I feel like I should focus on one project at a time and finish what I’ve already started before moving onto the next thing. The preparation I did for NaNoWriMo has allowed me to create a pretty solid story and foundation for my next novel and I look forward to working on it at a later date. I even have a head start since I wrote almost 4,000 words! But that said, this experience taught me that I’m a one manuscript at a time kind of writer.
Something I’ve been exploring this year is realistic vs. unrealistic expectations in relation to how much I can juggle at any given time. Beginning in January, I had four big projects vying for my attention. I was training for a spring marathon, studying to take an exam to earn my real estate license, trying to build my freelance writing business, and write a novel. I felt overwhelmed for the first few months of the year and not certain that any one of those things was really getting the attention they deserved. The first thing to go was marathon training. I got injured and then sick in February which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I was forced to take that off the table. Later, I decided that my heart is not in real estate and decided to not pursue my license. That, of course, left the writing stuff, because honestly, that IS where my heart is.
The lesson here is that four is too much. Three is a little more manageable. Two is ideal. Two is my magic number.
As far as how this was applied to my NaNoWriMo experience, I guess that what I’m trying to say is that I simply had too much on my plate in November and I didn’t recognize that until after I’d already announced my participation. I’m hopeful that this will allow me to plan better for the 2018 event.
As a side note, this topic is something that I plan to explore deeper as we move into 2018 and I begin planning and goal setting. I have also discovered the paralysis that comes from having so many ideas, goals, and ambitions… basically, I recede into a prolonged state of disorientation and get NOTHING accomplished. I intend to streamline my workflow a bit better so I can truly focus on things that light me up.
Time away from my first project has rekindled the desire to see it through to completion. Honestly, I was a little scared that if I took time away from writing The Colonel’s Keeper, I may not return to that work. Those few weeks – okay… months, if I’m being honest – that I put that project on hold and let my project have my attention turned out to be the refresh I needed. I’ve been slowly making my way back and feel recharged. NaNoWriMo gave me the opportunity to step back and take a much-needed break to process where I was and where I am heading.
I’ve got my work cut out for me over the next 10.5 months because now I need to finish the two manuscripts I’ve started so I can have a clean slate come NaNoWriMo 2018!
How do we live the writer’s life? There’s only one simple answer: we write. ~Dani Shapiro